Jan 6, 2020

Trump warns he may hit Iraq with sanctions, doubles down on Iran threat

President Trump speaks during a Jan. 3 campaign event in Miami, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One Sunday the U.S. wouldn't leave the joint U.S. air base with Iraq "unless they pay us back," and he doubled down on his threat to target 52 Iranian sites.

If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis. We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame."

Why it matters: Iraq's parliament passed a resolution earlier Sunday urging the government to expel U.S. troops from the country over the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the leader of an Iraqi militia on its soil.

  • Per Axios' Dave Lawler, the vote does not formally revoke Iraq's invitation for the U.S. to have a presence in the country, but it is a step along that path.
  • Trump's threat to attack cultural sites could be considered a war crime under the 1954 Hague treaty.

What he's saying: "We've spent a lot of money in Iraq," Trump told reporters, according to a pool report.

  • "Iraq, was the worst decision, going into the Middle East was the worst decision ever made in the history of our country ... We're not leaving unless they pay us back for it," he said of the joint air base.
  • On the targeting of cultural sites, Trump said, "They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people; they’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way."

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Trump's Air Force One bombast on Iran

Trump talks to the press in the cabin of Air Force One in 2018. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump came in hot during a half-hour conversation with the White House press pool on Air Force One — most of it off the record — as he returned from Mar-a-Lago to Washington on Sunday.

What happened: He repeated his threat against Iranian cultural sites: "They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way."

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Pentagon chief on targeting cultural sites: "We will follow the laws of armed conflict"

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday that "we will follow the laws of armed conflict" as they relate to the targeting of cultural sites, which is considered a war crime, CNN reports.

Why it matters: The remark appears to contradict President Trump's threat Sunday to target 52 Iranian sites — including ones "important" to Iranian culture — as a response to a potential retaliatory attack by Iran.

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Pentagon scrambles: "There's been no decision to leave Iraq"

Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

With multiple media outlets reporting on a letter appearing to reveal U.S. plans to withdraw from Iraq, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters Monday afternoon that no such decision has been made.

Driving the news: AFP and Reuters set off a frenzy by publishing a letter from Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William Seely informing the Iraqi military that the coalition to fight ISIS would be "repositioning forces" and preparing to move "out of Iraq" in the coming days and weeks out of respect for Iraqi sovereignty. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters that the letter was simply a draft and was not meant to be released.

Go deeperArrowJan 6, 2020